© 2024 KPCW

Spencer F. Eccles Broadcast Center
PO Box 1372 | 460 Swede Alley
Park City | UT | 84060
Office: (435) 649-9004 | Studio: (435) 655-8255

Music & Artist Inquiries: music@kpcw.org
News Tips & Press Releases: news@kpcw.org
Volunteer Opportunities
General Inquiries: info@kpcw.org
Listen Like a Local Park City & Heber City Summit & Wasatch counties, Utah
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Soldier Hollow Sheepdog Championship: Who will be top dog?

Carol Clawson

How to have a paw-sitively amazing time at the Soldier Hollow Sheepdog Championship...where every dog will have its day.

Some 66 dogs and 45 handlers will attempt to gather 320 sheep during the 21st annual installment of the Wasatch County event, May 24-27.

The first Soldier Hollow trial in 2003 has grown from its humble beginnings and attracts competitors from 19 countries with more than 13,000 annual spectators.

This Memorial Day weekend invitational – one of the world’s largest sheepdog competitions – will showcase the crème de la crème of sheepdogs and handlers. The competition includes three days of preliminary rounds, followed by the championship round on Monday.

Competition Manager Carol Clawson said the event is family-friendly and there will be food and merchandise vendors, a petting zoo, kids games and a raptor show.

“We’ll have a close-up herding demonstration where you can see a dog work and the trainer talks about how we train the dogs," she said. "We also use Border Collies for duck herding. And so we have someone doing that to showcase ability. And we will have some canines, some police as well as another trainer of protection dogs and search dogs. They do a terrific job.”

It’s a sport that started in the U.K. in the late 1800s and spread to the Americas, drawing interest from a colorful cast of characters and their canine counterparts.

Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship

Event founder Mark Peterson said the dogs compete in a series of 14-minute runs guiding a small flock of sheep across a preset course down a hillside and into a small pen at the bottom – hopefully before time runs out.

“And all this while the sheep have their own idea about what they'd like to be doing, which is of course not what the dog wants them to do, or what the handler wants them to do," he said. "It all has to be done with great concern for care for the sheep, not abusing them, not stressing them out. And there's a judge that is scoring the work based on the quality of the work, the efficiency of the work and the care of the stock.”

Peterson said the relationship between the dog and handler is fascinating. Handlers remain at the bottom of the hill and communicate through intricate whistles, but the dog is not just responding to commands, it’s making its own decisions.

“It's not just an obedience competition," he said. "If you ask a handler if that dog will disobey you up on the hillside they'll say, ‘Well, yes of course because sometimes I'm wrong and I want the dog to do what's right.’ And so the handler is expecting the dog to sometimes overrule them to make a decision because they're right there with the sheep and need to make the correct decision if the handlers are wrong. And if you think about that, that's a complex thing to ask a dog to do. These dogs are among the smartest four-legged creatures in the world.”

These dogs are not only smart, they’re smooth. Clawson said event commentator Matthew Heimburger uses a throwback analogy to those traumatic middle-school years.

“There's lots of funny things that happen and Matt is hysterical," she said. "When he talks about what's happening when the dog meets the sheep, he says it's kind of like that junior high dance where you're kind of shyly walking up to ask your crush if you can dance. And that's exactly what happens on top.”

So, who will be the top dog at this dance competition? Be sure to attend the Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship to find out.

Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship